Edited Feb 2017.
This post was originally done in June 2016, when I was really angry after reading what Spin had written, when they chose RM as one of “The 50 best Hip-Hop Albums of 2015”, while making some accusations of him that was unwarranted.
However, I really do NOT want this to be a debate blog of controversial issues…. mostly because I am very lazy….and I want this blog to be a low stress thing.
I’d like to thank the people who have left me long and constructive replies to this topic. I have read them, learned from them, and saved them…. but as I want to be less of a debate blog, I will try to re-write this post again.
I want this blog to be just sharing of information. Even then, it is bound to be somewhat biased, based on the information I choose to share, which I cannot avoid completely. I’ll try to be less angry/annoyed…. sigh…
I just wanted to express that at times, Western cultures assume a lot of things are about skin color differences between races… when an average Korean probably isn’t thinking of that at all. They do not share the same history as U.S. … and they suffer from whole other sets of issues in their society….. so things can be complicated…. and you cannot just apply western values when you think of these things……
With regards to RM’s cover, SPIN stated “its cover artwork is circumstantially unwise at best”.
First, when you look at the RM Mixtape cover, what do you think of?
Honestly, the first thing that came to my mind was a Yin and Yang symbol:
“opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.”
Which perfectly describes the whole RM Mixtape, because the whole thing feels like a journey, where RM is trying to find peace and harmony between his opposing sides of being a Hip-Hop rapper and an “idol.” In the end, he seems to conclude that these two supposedly opposite sides “are complementary and interconnected and interdependent.”
Nowhere in the album, does he really talk about race.
In fact, BTS, while liking the music of Hip-Hop and and the idea of using music to express the oppression of society, uses this genre to sing about issues that are relevant to themselves. They do not blindly try to copy “American Hip-Hop.”
I have heard of other Korean Hip-Hop artists, who think it’s a medal of honor to do drugs and get into trouble with police, and thinks that makes the more “authentic Hip-Hop” artists. And they call BTS fake imitators who does not do real Hip-Hop. Who’s the imitator here?
But BTS sings about things that are relevant to them. Oppressive schools in a country where academic competition causes kids to have the highest suicide rates in the world. The gap between the rich and the poor and the idea of silver spoon/social injustice in “Baepsae” . Superficial materialism in “Spinebreaker.” Chasing dreams instead of following rigid path set by adults in a lot of RM Mixtape songs…
Not everything black and white is about skin color. Sometimes it’s about Yin/Yang, and many other such artistic opposing ideas that were used for centuries around the world…..
SPIN also says:
“Even Rap Monster, the promising 20-year-old breakout star from seven-piece hip-hop group BTS demonstrated his “special talent” of “talking black” in one horrifying on-air appearance.”
Now, you can be see how weird SPIN’s attitude is, if you think about a situation where the roles are reversed.
Say, an international K-pop fan learns some Korean. One day, she comes upon J-Hope rapping in Jeollado dialect, and thinks he sounds really cool and tries to learn the dialect. (and I have to say, as much as I like him rapping usually, his dialect makes him sound way cooler…)
Say this international K-pop fan becomes famous, and tries to show her love of K-pop by imitating the Jeollado dialect on a show. How would she feel, if Koreans shunned her, saying she “demonstrated her special talent of talking in Jeollado dialect in horrifying on-air appearance.”
I’m sure RM knows (like everyone else) about the issue with racism in America, etc, etc. However, he encountered Hip-Hop as an artsy culture…and I’m sure he thought it looked and sounded cool and the idea of expression was wonderful.
Just like the international K-pop fan may have thought rapping in Jeollado dialect sounds cool.
I’m sure this K-pop fan would be quite shocked if Koreans suddenly hated her saying, “How dare you think it’s cool to talk in Jeollado dialect? You don’t know anything about the Gwangju massacre and the sufferings of these people! The decades of political oppression they went through!” Or, something like, “You’ll never be a true Jeolla person! You imitator!!”
Also, you naturally learn speech from what you listen to. There are foreigners in Korea who speak with strong dialects because of who taught them Korean. If RM listened to a lot of hip-hop while he was learning English, of course his accent would be influenced by it.
Imitating/speaking different languages is something that celebrities are expected to do on all kinds of variety shows and radio shows in Korea. They often get celebs who speak different languages to demonstrate them. I’ve frequently seen people being requested to demonstrate English, or French, or Chinese, or Japanese, or Thai, etc. At times I’ve even seen them ask people to say something in British accent.
While I understand that there is a lot of history behind the AAVE, so do all these other languages. While I do cringe at times when MC’s and DJ’s make people do these, it’s not a race-specific thing they do. They just seem to think it’s so cool when people are able to speak more languages, any language… and this probably largely stem from their obsession with education. To a lot of Koreans, learning another language is a difficult feat, and something that should be applauded…
Now, there are a lot of different prejudices in Korea, including racism (just like there are in a lot of other countries, including the multi-cultural Canada that I live in). Some are malicious, and others are quite just born out of ignorance, all over the world.
I’m not saying there is no racism for skin color in Korea, but the majority of racism in Korea doesn’t even have anything to do with skin color. It’s mostly between the Japanese, Chinese and Korean. It was only 70 odd years ago, during WWII, that thousands of Koreans (and Chinese) were massacred by the Japanese army, and women used and killed as sex slaves. Fortunately, the animosity is getting better as the years pass…
Obviously, Koreans/Chinese/Japanese all have the same skin color. The fact that SPIN just assumes the whole world has the same racism ideas as USA, and never even questions that others may have diverse cultures and history… kinda made me really disappointed.
In Korea, there is also a lot of gap between rich and poor, and discrimination based on education, etc. These are the things that BTS sings about… BTS really does not like prejudices.
Another thing about skin color. Sometimes, it is true, that Korean media jokes (badly) about skin color. However, a lot of the times when someone jokes when people say that someone is dark, has nothing to do with racial differences.
Koreans, until about 100 years ago, had class of aristocrats who were not supposed to do physical labor (even if you’re about to starve to death), and the commoners who did mostly farming.
Having dark skin has connotations of being the common serf. I think the British had similar ideas (thus all the bonnets, parasols, etc). They no longer have this class system, so skin color is no longer associated with social status necessarily…. but still often associated with being a farmer.
This kind of connotations with skin color and jobs existed prior to majority Koreans even being exposed to existence of black/white people (especially since Korea was a fairly isolated society into 1900’s). You shouldn’t just jump to assume it has something to do with race, just because that’s significant in US history.
In addition to that, in Korea, only young kids/tomboys, etc get to go outside and play until they get dark. Even by middle school, they are weighed down by all their academic responsibilities.
I think there was a recent video where RM says J-Hope looked really dark when he first saw him. A Korean would hear this and think “I can see how J-Hope would be running around outside like a little kid.” Or, “Oh, J-Hope is such a country bumpkin.” It would be like teasing your friend for having a bad farmer’s tan. (It is pretty hard to get a good tan in Seoul, between the busy life and pollution.)
Even long ago, when I was subbing WGM and people teased Hwangbo for being dark, it was mostly that she was such a tomboy (why they prefer girly girls in general and not tomboys is another issue that I will not go into here, as that will take too long..)
Unrelated to Spin…
Another thing I’ve often read is comments about photos being whitewashed…and people speculating what the skin color should have been.
All I can say is… there is a lot of variability within the population… so this speculation is bound to be next to impossible.
And even as one person, there can be a lot of variability. For example, I am an indoor kind of person and usually paler than my caucasian best friend. However, if I do get sun exposure, I easily tan to be fairly dark brown.
Also, sometimes I see photo where the contrast was turned up, just to make the photo sharper or more dramatic… which has nothing to do with trying to be more white, necessarily. You can do this type of increased contrast manipulation with dramatic photos of inanimate objects too. Most likely, if these photos were manipulated by Korean fans or BigHit, the skin color differences between races is the last thing on their mind. Korea is a fairly homogeneous society and most of these people probably never encounter someone of different race in their regular daily life.
I was surprised that a lot of foreign fans thought RM looked really “natural” and “healthy”, with “no white washing” in the Spring Day MV. That scene with him at the beginning has the color saturation turned up very high, so high that the skin looks really yellow and the whites of his eyes look blue. It really is no more realistic than the scene with Jin where the color saturation is turned down very low, and it looks almost black and white. Both scenes are very aesthetic and go well with the contrasting themes of spring and winter…. It’s strange that people speculate on a skin tone, only to settle on one what looks obviously manipulated to look more aesthetic than realistic.
Again, I thank the people who have written comments on this post previously. I’m trying to be less angry and insensitive… although it may not be 100% possible. Sigh. I apologize for deleting your comments but I have read them and kept them.
I just wanna say, I think RM is just a hip hop fanboy. He is really not trying to be black – although at this point, I really think hip hop as a genre has transcended races. However, hip hop becoming mainstream doesn’t mean that there is lack of respect for the origins of this genre.
Nor does RM even say he is doing authentic hip hop at this point. But I think he does give respect to the genre and does it the justice it is due, by continuing to make songs about relevant social issues.
I do have to say, that Korean society can be, often, very politically incorrect. I just don’t want Western cultures to read between the lines and add even more political incorrectness when none was intended…. Sigh…. It is a very complex society….